Wednesday, March 16, 2016

11 Tips For The Care And Feeding Of Your Muse:
A Guide For Writers And Everyone Who Wants To Be More Creative

The muse (also referred to as intuition, instinct, the subconscious, a superpower, the Spidey sense) is generally a friendly and cooperative breed. By nature, the muse tends to be bright eyed, curious and energetic. However, ignored or poorly-treated the muse can be become depressed and mopey and will not function effectively.
The rules for its care and feeding are simple. Obeying them will keep your muse—and you—creative, productive and in top operating condition.

1) Do offer your muse a lavish buffet of experiences.
Muses have adventuresome palates and perk up at the opportunity to try something new and/or different. Be sure to share all the interesting, offbeat, repellent, lurid, provocative and enlightening content that rushes past in a torrent every day.
Your muse will love you for your everyday reading habits. Reading in your genre and out, fiction and non-fiction, newspapers and magazines — will keep your muse happy and healthy. Nourished on a solid stream of input, your muse will be able to connect unrelated ideas into dazzling new plots and twists.

2) Don’t put your muse on a diet.  
Paleo? No way. Low carb? Uh-uh.  Muses get cranky when they’re hungry and behave badly. All they can think about is food and their next meal. They are too preoccupied with thoughts of pasta, chocolate and a good, thick steak to pay attention to you and your book. Deprived of regular feeding, your muse will have no energy for the heavy lifting needed for creative work.
Besides, diets don’t work. Not for people. Not for muses.

3) Don’t bore your muse.
Muses hate getting stuck in a rut. For optimum health, your muse needs to be challenged and stimulated. Gallery hopping and channel surfing, brushing up your high school Spanish and learning to lindy, roller skate and enjoy hot dogs and a beer in bleacher seats at the ballgame—each offers your muse new and different experience.
  • A summer vacation at the shore might inspire the next Jaws.
  • A visit to a natural history museum might result in Jurassic Park.
  • An hour or two with the food channel might trigger a new cozy set in a bakery or restaurant. Or what about a new horror novel starring a demented, knife-wielding chef, TV cooking-show host or obnoxious restaurant-owner?
  • Even the supermarket can inspire your muse—think of The Stepford Wives. Visit Whole Foods for the organic, more upscale version.
  • Binge viewing The Sopranos or House of Cards could lead you to create the next Godfather or All The President’s Men.

4) Do learn to interpret communiqu├ęs from your muse.
Muses, although generally reliable, communicate in unpredictable ways. Sometimes they shout. Sometimes they whisper.
  • The story you can’t get out of your mind, the one that wakes you up at night and intrudes when you’re otherwise occupied? That’s a shout. Your muse is giving you no option except to pay attention.
  • The chapter you’re bogged down on and hate writing? Your muse might be telling you you’re on the wrong track and need to figure out where you’ve made your mistake.
  • The balky character that lays there like a herring and won’t come to life? Your muse is telling you you need to shape up and do a better job.
  • The idea that flashes through your mind so fast it almost disappears the moment it becomes conscious? That’s a whisper.
 Whispers are gold and must be gathered and protected, ergo, the notebook.

5) Do keep a notebook—or several.
Whether digital or paper, the notebook is indispensable.  Any writer who doesn’t have a note book—paper or electronic—should have his or her computer impounded.
Evernote, Microsoft OneNote and WorkFlowy all work as excellent electronic note keepers.
Paper notebooks should be everywhere you are.  There are notebooks on my night table, in the kitchen, on the dining room table, in the living room, next to my desk (obviously!) and in my purse. There is even a notebook in the bathroom for those nights I wake up with a "brilliant" idea I absolutely have to write down. In the dark. So as not to disturb my DH who already knows all too much about what it's like to live with a writer.
Notebook Stories will give you lots of other choices to consider and for pens to write with, check out the Pen Addict.

6) Do obey the golden rule and treat your muse as you would want to be treated.
Muses tend to be patient and understanding but they don’t like to be hurried, harried or harassed. They respond better to the kiss than the whip and will go MIA if you are feeling overwhelmed, out of control and stressed out.
If your muse has gone AWOL, look for him/her at your nearest yoga class. In fact, it might be a good idea to pull up a mat and join your muse in a tree pose and downward dog.
A well-chosen yoga tape or some time out for meditation and/or deep breathing calm you and help get you and your muse back in primo working condition.

7) Don’t ignore your muse’s bio-rhythms.
Your muse will not react well when tired, sleepy or barely-awake. Some muses work better in the morning, others perform at their best later in the day or at night. Synch your work habits with those of your muse and you will find your work goes smoother and inspiration comes more easily.
Don’t expect your night owl muse to be perky and creative early in the AM.
Don’t ask your crack-of-dawn muse to come to your rescue at midnight.

8) Do give your free-range muse room to roam.
  • Stilettos or clogs? Polos or Tees? Grunge or business casual? Black tie or white shoe? Fashion magazines, style blogs and catalogs are filled with photos and descriptions of clothing. Check them out and your muse will find new ways for you to describe your character’s clothing and wardrobe in ways that brings them alive and makes them real to the reader.
  • Good hair day or bad plastic surgery? Muffin top or too rich and too thin? Beauty and grooming sites are filled with photos and comment, some of it snarky, some of it sincere, about exactly one subject: how people look. With their help, you and your muse can turn your descriptions from insipid to inspired.
  • The business pages are a source for occupations and careers: your characters have to make a living, don’t they? The tabs are an endless wellspring of sex and scandal and niche magazines or blogs—bass fishing, ice climbing, stamp collecting, arctic biology—will open new dictionaries for the alert writer and his or her muse.
  • Success and failure, triumph and tragedy. Go to the sports pages. Seriously. Almost every story is basically about how an athlete, talented or otherwise, overcomes—or doesn’t—golden-boy good looks, a reputation for dogging it, a lousy attitude in the clubhouse, jail time, drugs, booze, injury, scandal, depression, poor parenting, mean and/or incompetent coaching.
  • Besides, it’s not just the drama and the schmaltz, it’s also about the language: sports are all about action and sports writers are great with verbs.

9) Do treat your muse to input from experts like choreographer, Twyla Tharp.
Her guidebook, The Creative Habit, is practical, down to earth and inspiring. Using a wide-ranging set of examples ranging from Homer to Proust, from Ulysses S Grand to Ludwig Wittgenstein and Pope LeoX, from Merce Cunningham and George Balanchine to Ansel Adams, Raymond Chandler, Mozart and Yogi Berra, she offers a detailed road map  to defining your creative identity based on her own experience.
Ms. Tharp explains the importance of routine, ritual and setting goals, how to know the difference between a good idea and a bad idea, how to recognize ruts when you’re in one and she offers explicit guidelines about how to get out of them.

10) Don’t ignore your gut feelings and learn how to train your muse.
Susan Kaye Quinn is a scientist—a rocket scientist, to be exact—and author of the bestselling Mindjack series. Susan refers to her muse as a superpower and in this must-read article she tells how to tap your subconscious, how to train your muse and why you should pay attention to your gut feelings.
You will find more from Susan about increasing your productivity and amping up your creativity in her post at David Gaughran’s blog.

11) Do learn to trust your muse—even when you don’t know exactly why.

Your intuition aka your muse is that sense of knowing without knowing and Steve Jobs called it “ more powerful than intellect.” From dealing with negative thoughts, to paying attention to your dreams, and making time for solitude Carolyn Gregoire lists 10 Things Highly Intuitive People Do Differently.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

 Why Writers Need To Goof Off And Space Out

“Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth,observed philosopher-pugilist, Mike Tyson.

Not just boxers, Mike. Ditto for writers.

Whether you’re a plotter or pantser, you start out with some kind of plan. That plan might be a theme, an idea, a concept, an image, a main character, a villain, a plot or plot twist, a setting, an outline or beat sheet. Then you begin to write and at some point you realize you’re on the receiving end of a punch in the mouth, because—

  • The book about which you had such dazzling fantasies is a disorganized mess.
  • Your brilliant insights are drowning in a sea of ugly clutter.
  • The first chapter is a dingy cellar dweller.
  • The inciting incident is fat, flabby and forgettable (even by you).
  • Those annoying dust bunnies lurking around the corners of the plot/theme/outline are triggering an allergy attack.
  • The plot is MIA somewhere in the jungles of remotest Borneo.
  • The characters have all the verve and come-hither appeal of your ex’s sweaty socks the dog just unearthed from under the bed.
  • The verbs are passive, the nouns meh and the adjectives are rusting in the front yard.
  • You’d rather wait for your cable company to show up than drag yourself to your computer and face the beast.

So then what? How do you punch back and rediscover the joy of writing?

The first thing to understand is that creative work by definition is “disorganized and non-linear” and that the writer’s job is to make order out of chaos—a process that happens in the conscious and the subconscious. Both must be given time—and the proper conditions—to perform at their peak.

The second thing is to remind yourself that, despite your fits of insecurity and self-doubt, you’re a creative person. Research in cognitive psychology and the personal experiences of other highly creative people point the way to some of most effective, time-tested behaviors that will help tame the process and allow you to experience the joy of writing.

Goof off. Seriously. When the going gets tough, the tough take a nap. Or a shower. Try that new recipe you’ve been thinking about. Build a model airplane. Weed the garden. Go to a party, an art gallery, a museum. Watch a movie, catch up with the news, phone a friend. Go to a concert or the ballet or a baseball game.

Or, God forbid, do the dishes, take out the garbage or get out the vacuum cleaner because when, you’re feeling uninspired, housework is more appealing than writing. At least for a while.

The reason is that sometimes you get ahead of yourself and need a little time (aka “goofing off”) to catch up. A Stanford psychologist explains why spacing out is good for you and your work and suggests three ways to disengage.

Bottom line: when you’re feeling stuck/blah/blocked/burned out, get away from your desk. Stop beating up on yourself and go do something else. I’ve told my DH at least a million times that a body in motion is a mind in motion. (Who says living with a writer isn’t one thrill after another?)

Best of all? Take a walk. A Stanford study shows that walking improve creativity.

Don’t forget: Albert Einstein was known for the theory of relativity—and for taking walks around the Princeton campus.

Change speeds. If you write on a computer, switch to a pad and pen. Slowing down can make a difference and there seems to be a more direct connection to the brain when writing by hand than via a keyboard.

Blogger and short story writer, Lee Bourke, tells why creative writing is better with a pen.

According to psychologists, writing by hand can make you smarter.

Caffeine. A Starbucks run provides the kick start magic for many and it’s no surprise that writers plant themselves at a coffee shop with their laptops or notebooks—the kinds with keyboards or the old fashioned pen and paper variety.

Balzac was known to indulge in fifty cups a day but new research questions the effect of caffeine on creativity. Another approach disagrees and points out that caffeine is effective if you use it correctly.

For me, a cup of freshly brewed Darjeeling, Assam, Keemun or Green Jasmine does the job. However, it might not be the mild dose of caffeine that helps. Instead, leaving my desk, going into the kitchen, warming the teapot, boiling the water, measuring the tea, and waiting for it to brew breaks the hyper-focused oh-shit-now-what?-cycle and allows the idea I need to bubble up from my subconscious.

Brainstorming. Turning to a reliable brainstorming partner, a parent, sibling, cubicle mate can rescue you from a glitch. In my case, my DH (lucky man). Very often, it’s not what he says. It’s what I say. Turns out I had the solution all along; I just didn’t know it until I started talking about my current problem/dilemma.

Other brainstorming techniques include mind mapping, listing, and cubing. Those approaches and others are described in a Writing Center article. If one technique doesn’t work, try another. And the another until you get where you want to be.

Want to write a book in thirty days? Here’s a guide to brainstorming methods that will get you going and keep you on track.

Wanna really go for it? Influential English author, Michael Moorcock, explains how to write a book in three days.

To help you get started (or keep you going), here’s a list of 24 of the best, most popular brainstorming and mind mapping apps.

Read. Science shows that extensive practice in reading or writing is related to high creative performance. Duh. So read widely and often.

  • The sports pages because sports writers are great at describing  action. Good verbs and lots of drama—doping! gambling! violence on the field and off! heroes and villains!—on the sports page.
  • Fashion magazines, style blogs and catalogs are filled with detailed descriptions of clothing that will give you loads of ideas about describing your characters’ wardrobes.
  • Beauty and grooming sites focus on hair, makeup and all the other details of personal grooming and presentation that will sharpen your perspective—and vocabulary—when it comes to describing appearance.
  • The business pages are a great source of ideas for occupations and careers, and are brimming with stories of failure and success that make great drama for fiction. The Big Short, The Wolf of Wall Street and Billions are examples that will inspire you.
  • The tabs are an endless wellspring of secrets, sex and scandal, luridly written and lasciviously described. From Dallas to Scandal, Valley Of The Dolls To Fifty Shades Of Grey, the sordid doings of the rich and famous never go out of style.
  • Filmed documentaries, special-interest magazines or blogs on a vast range of subjects—urban hydrology, big wave surfing, Elvis costumes, arctic biology—can jar you out of your impasse and give you ideas for new and different kinds of characters and settings.

Nail The Blurb. Sometimes I get lost in the trees and need to step back and see the forest again. You, too? Writing the blurb is a way to regain the perspective you’ve (temporarily) lost. Besides, after your cover, blurbs are the second most important selling tool you have for your book.

Here’s advice on how to write a brilliant blurb and the difference between a blurb and a synopsis.

Joanna Penn reminds us that a blurb is basically a sales pitch and offers advice about how to make your blurb shine—and sell.

I’m a long time cover copy writer, so here’s my take on how to write a killer blurb.

Indulge. Booze, wine, chocolate have been tried and found guilty of putting that inner scold/second-guesser in its place and unleashing the imagination. Just don’t get so loaded you can’t read your notes the next day or so fat you can’t waddle to your computer. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

Go back to work and give it another try. It’s gonna be fun. Really. After all, Albert Einstein, who figured out the inner secrets of the universe, also figured out the inner secrets of creativity: “Creativity is intelligence having fun.”


Note from Ruth: This post originally appeared on the blog I share with the wondrous Anne R. Allen. For more of our wit and wisdom, be sure to check out Anne's blog. This week Anne explains why “SHOW DON’T TELL” CAN BE TERRIBLE ADVICE FOR NEW WRITERS


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